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New York Jets: Three players that don’t fit the 4-3 defense

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 09: Marcus Murphy #45 of the Buffalo Bills runs with the ball as he is smothered by Henry Anderson #96 of the New York Jets in the third quarter during NFL game action at New Era Field on December 9, 2018 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 09: Marcus Murphy #45 of the Buffalo Bills runs with the ball as he is smothered by Henry Anderson #96 of the New York Jets in the third quarter during NFL game action at New Era Field on December 9, 2018 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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With the hire of new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the Jets will likely switch to a 4-3 defense. This will have a negative impact on these current New York Jets players.

The newly hired Gregg Williams brings with him a myriad of excitement and optimism regarding the future of the team. Many are looking forward to his fiery persona being present on the sidelines of every game while others are optimistic regarding the team’s expected defensive shift.

However, the expected change will not be great for all parties involved.

The Jets have run a 3-4 defense since 2007, their second season under head coach Eric Mangini. Yes, it’s been that long since the Jets have deployed a different base package.

Williams will likely bring with him a switch to a 4-3 defense as that is the alignment he has made use of throughout his coaching career. While the switch will prove to be beneficial for some, there are a few players who will be negatively impacted as well.

Let’s take a look and examine the full impact of the defensive shift on some of the team’s roster.

Jordan Jenkins

Jordan Jenkins is a player who may find himself as an outcast — a misfit hybrid — in a 4-3 defense. Despite coming off a career year in which he tied for the team lead in sacks with seven, Jenkins may find himself without a permanent starting role when the Jets make the shift.

The Georgia product has been a 3-4 outside linebacker since his college days and hasn’t played a prototypical down lineman role since high school. This means that it would be very difficult for him to make that transition in the pros when there is no guarantee that he will even be productive from the same spot.

Some may point to the fact that he is a tad undersized to be a 4-3 defensive end but even if he is, it’s not anything too major that cannot be overcome. The real concern comes with technical differences where Jenkins will be given different gap responsibilities than he is used to and be asked to defend the edge more than in the past. It’s a major change that many overlook but it definitely isn’t as easy as it may sound.

The other alternative would be to have him play an off-ball linebacker role as a strong side defender in the 4-3. This would be another role completely out of his comfort zone as he would now be tasked with increased coverage responsibilities, something he has done very little of in his entire football career. This would also put him a good few yards back of the line of scrimmage in many cases, not a role a player of his size and athletic capabilities should be asked to play.

Simply put, there doesn’t appear to be a one-size-fits-all solution for Jenkins. Given the fact that he is still young and that he’s coming off a career year, the team will likely look to find some way to incorporate him into the defense. This switch just makes his role a lot less defined than it previously was.

Henry Anderson

The Jets were able to acquire Henry Anderson from the Indianapolis Colts during the 2018 NFL Draft for the bargain price of a seventh-round pick (that the team received in the Sheldon Richardson trade). Anderson was able to turn that pick into a career-high seven sacks, tying for the team lead, putting together a career year in the process.

But there was one particular reason that the Jets were able to get Anderson for such a bargain. The Colts had just begun the switch to a 4-3 defense and didn’t see him as a fit.

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That doesn’t bode well for his future with the Jets.

Much like Jenkins, Anderson has played as a 3-4 defensive end for his entire NFL and collegiate career making a potential change even harder given his lack of recent experience. The Stanford product originally attempted to lose weight in order to fit the Colts new schemes but Indianapolis clearly didn’t think he had a future with the team and opted to essentially give him away.

If Anderson were to remain with the team, he would likely have to cut down at least 30 pounds to try and fit in as a defensive end. The former third-round pick has no experience playing as a defensive tackle and would surely be a misfit in that role.

With his contract set to expire, it’s likely Anderson finds a new home next year with a team as a typical 3-4 defensive end rather than going through the process of having to cut weight for the second consecutive offseason.

It’s a shame really, but you can’t fit a square peg in a circular hole, no matter how talented that peg may be.

Steve McLendon

Steve McLendon is your typical run-stuffing nose tackle who serves a vital role on the team as a run defender and little else. Unfortunately, 4-3 defenses don’t typically have roles for nose tackles.

McLendon has been an unquestioned leader on defense for a few years now, playing well as a run-defending space-eater in the middle of the defensive line. While the Jets run defense wasn’t superb in 2018, McLendon did his part and earned a Pro Football Focus grade of 78.5 which ranked 30th out of all interior defensive linemen.

But much like the previous two, McLendon has played one role and one role only since entering the league, a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. The former Pittsburgh Steeler would need to slim down significantly if he were to try and fit in as a 4-3 defensive tackle.

Next. Jets must switch to a 4-3 defense in 2019

Given his expired contract and the fact that he is already 33-years-old, the chances are slim to none that the Jets look to bring McLendon back in 2019. He’s served his role well for a few years, but it’s time for the Jets to move on in another direction.

Replacing his production may not be too hard, but his on-field leadership will be difficult to replicate.

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